After Virus Tests, Djokovic Is Criticized for Holding Exhibition

They have not only played tennis in front of big crowds on the Adria Tour. They have hugged, high-fived, and partied together: Some of the players even formed a line and did the limbo on a night out in Belgrade, Serbia.

But the consequences have quickly become much more serious than the mood with two of the tour’s main attractions, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric, announcing they tested positive for the coronavirus and another, Viktor Troicki, doing so, according to a Serbian media report.

Nick Kyrgios, tweeting from his home nation, Australia, called it “a boneheaded decision” to play the event, an exhibition series organized in the Balkans this month by Novak Djokovic, the top men’s singles player.

“Speedy recovery fellas,” he wrote in response to the positive tests. “But that’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. This IS NOT A JOKE.”

Dimitrov, the Bulgarian star and a 2019 United States Open semifinalist, announced his test result on Sunday after returning to his base in Monaco from the tour’s latest stop in Zadar, Croatia.

“I am so sorry for any harm I might have caused,” Dimitrov said on social media.

Coric, a promising Croat ranked 33rd in men’s singles, said on Monday that he also had tested positive. So have Troicki, a prominent Serbian player; Christian Groh, Dimitrov’s coach; and Marco Panichi, Djokovic’s fitness coach, according to media reports in Serbia.

Three other players on the Adria Tour — Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic and Andrey Rublev — announced Monday that they had tested negative for the virus but would be self-isolating for 14 days.

“I deeply apologize to anyone that I have potentially put at risk by playing this tour,” Zverev, the seventh-ranked men’s singles player, said on Twitter.

Dimitrov’s announcement forced event officials to call off Sunday’s final between Djokovic and Rublev. Djokovic, who was in frequent physical contact with Dimitrov during the tour, has returned to Belgrade and is expected to announce on Tuesday the result of the coronavirus test he said he had taken.

The remainder of the Adria Tour, scheduled to head to Montenegro this week, is now very much in doubt. But the response over the lack of social distancing — which included pickup basketball and a group photo with ball kids — from some in the tennis community has been swift and severe.

“I sum it up as a horror show,” Bruno Soares, a member of the ATP Player Council, of which Djokovic is president, said in an interview with the Brazilian news outlet GloboEsporte. “Enormous irresponsibility and huge immaturity. They were totally careless, and it’s difficult for me to find the words.”

No paragon of self-restraint, Kyrgios has been suspended from the tour for misbehavior and fined frequently. But in this health crisis, he has urged tennis to take a conservative approach, as he also criticized the recent decision to hold the 2020 United States Open on its originally scheduled dates.

But the U.S. Open and the regular tour events that will precede it are to be played without spectators and with strict social distancing requirements. There have been no such limits on the Adria Tour, in part, as Djokovic has explained, because local authorities did not require them. Serbia and neighboring countries have had comparatively few positive coronavirus cases and reported deaths.

Even before Dimitrov and Coric tested positive, there was concern about the optics of full stadiums and partying players with so many still suffering worldwide.

“You’ve got to be aware of who you are and leading by example,” said Patrick McEnroe, an ESPN analyst and former player who has recovered from the coronavirus, referring to Djokovic. He added that it would be “hard to imagine” another top player, like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Serena Williams, holding a similar tour.

When the men’s and women’s tours shut down in March because of the pandemic, Djokovic was undefeated on court in 2020, but he has hardly been on a winning streak during the extended break. He has incited controversy by questioning the necessity of an eventual coronavirus vaccine and explaining that he would have a hard decision to make if getting one were required by the tour. When the U.S. Open announced its plans to protect players from the virus by limiting the size of entourages and restricting players’ movement, Djokovic was an outspoken critic of the idea, calling the plan “extreme” and questioning whether he would play.

But the risks of taking a less cautious approach are now clear, particularly in a sport with an international group of players who have to travel.

Credit…Marko Djurica/Reuters

“Hopefully people will be able to discern that this isn’t an issue with the concept of returning to tennis but of how you return to tennis,” said Mark Ein, the owner of the Citi Open in Washington, which is scheduled to be the comeback event for the ATP Tour in August. “Even if places feel safe, it’s still prudent to take the basic precautions.”

Andrea Gaudenzi, the ATP chairman, said the tour had recommended that players competing on the Adria Tour and in other unsanctioned events take “proper precautions and respect social distancing.” But ultimately the ATP had no jurisdiction to impose safety regulations.

“Obviously we feel sorry for the players,” Gaudenzi said in a telephone interview. “We want them to recover as soon as possible. I know there has been a lot of criticism, but on the other hand, we at the ATP, the U.S.T.A., and everybody, we have to be careful because we also have to be conscious that even with extreme measures, you could actually end up having some players testing positive. You don’t need players and people hugging each other for someone to test positive. So we’re all running the risk.”

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 22, 2020

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      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

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      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

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      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

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      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

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      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

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      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

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      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How do I get tested?

      If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.


The positive tests on the Adria Tour could help make subsequent events safer, Gaudenzi said, by making players more willing to stay in the restricted environment imposed to reduce the risk of infection.

“It’s a little bit like when you tell your kids when they try to learn to ride the bike to wear the helmet,” Gaudenzi said. “It’s ‘no, no, no’. And they ride the bike, they fall, and then they wear the helmet. Now we all know we can get this very easily, so we’re going to be even more careful, and maybe we will have a little bit more tolerance toward the bubble.”

It is also a reminder to event organizers — like Bob Moran, the tournament director of the Credit One Bank Invitational, a six-day women’s team exhibition in Charleston, S.C. — of the importance of safety measures. The participants in the event, which is set to begin without spectators on Tuesday, include Sofia Kenin, this year’s Australian Open champion, and Sloane Stephens, a former U.S. Open champion. According to Moran, players have been practicing social distancing and wearing masks on site when not training or competing.

Nets and sitting areas are being sanitized after practice sessions.

“Honestly, I think it’s two different animals,” Moran said of his event and the Adria Tour. He added: “The players who have tested positive are all players these women know and have spent time with. It’s very unfortunate. I hate to see this happen and hate to see it happen now, but it’s just again re-emphasizing why we’re taking all the precautions we are taking.”

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